This is the sort of move that looks so wonky, you sure hope your roommate doesn't catch you doing it — unless she also gets to see you look stellar in a bathing suit, in which case she just may pull up a chair.
- Sit tall on the edge of a sturdy chair (or step with four risers) and place your hands on the edge with your fingers pointing toward your knees.
- Tighten your abs and bring your toes 2 to 4 inches off the floor. Lift your butt off the chair.
- Hold this position for as long as you can — aim for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Lower yourself down and repeat.
- Continue this exercise for 1 minute.
The Side Crunch
A deceptively difficult move, the side crunch tests your balance while it teases your oblique muscles. (It worked my hips in a way I've not felt in a while, too.)
- Kneel on the floor and lean all the way over to your right side, placing your right palm on the floor.
- Keeping your weight balanced, slowly extend your left leg and point your toes.
- Place your left hand behind your head, pointing your elbow toward the ceiling.
- Next, slowly lift your leg to hip height as you extend your arm above your leg, with your palm facing forward.
- Look out over your hand while bringing the left side of your rib cage toward your hip.
- Lower to your starting position and repeat 6 to 8 times.
- Do two sets of 6 to 8 reps, and then switch sides.
A machine- (and accessory-) free Pilates move that afterwards always makes me think 1) "Uh, we sure sounded like we're doing Lamaze," and 2) "Wow."
- Sit tall on the mat with your knees bent by your chest and your hands at your sides.
- Lie down with your knees bent and your palms facing down.
- Exhale and raise your head and shoulders off the mat.
- Vigorously pump your arms 6 inches up and down, reaching with your fingertips.
- Inhale for 5 pumps, then exhale for 5 pumps. Be sure to curl your chin in toward your chest.
- Do 100 pumps, or 10 full breaths.
- Try to keep your lower back pressed in toward the floor and keep your lower abs pulled in toward your spine. You should keep your abs engaged this way throughout the workout.
Opposite Arm and Leg Raise
Done during my workout warm-up, this move makes me feel longer, steadier, and seriously balanced. Thanks, core!
- Begin on all fours, aligning your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders.
- Raise your left arm to shoulder height and your left leg to hip height.
- Hold for 2 counts, reaching forward with your fingers and back with your heels.
- Repeat this exercise on the opposite side.
- Do 15 to 20 reps, alternating sides.
- For a bigger challenge, touch your opposite elbow to your knee as you pull your arm and leg in.
The Prone Plank
A super-simple, do-anywhere move that zips up your abs a la Ms. Stefani. (Fingers crossed.)
- Get into a full pushup position with your palms on the floor beneath your shoulders.
- Hold here for 30 seconds, with your abs contracted and your arms and legs extended and your head aligned with your spine.
- As you build strength, hold this position longer, up to one minute.
- Go deeper: Try the one-arm stable switching plank.
Squat Thrust with Twist
I avoided this move at first because I thought it had "wrenched back" written all over it. But after doing slooowly at first and testing where the back tweaking would begin, I found the threshold between "yikes" and "yes!"
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height.
- Begin by squatting down, bending your knees 90 degrees, and twisting your upper body to the left.
- Now come up and repeat the exercise to the right.
- Keep your weight in your heels and don't allow your knees to jut forward away from your toes.
- Keep your knees facing forward as your chest and shoulders move side to side.
- For the best results, bend your knees as close to 90 degrees as possible.
The Climb Up
Crunchier than most of the lying-down crunches I've tried, this move also makes the cut simply because it's novel.
- Start by lying on the floor with a 3-foot-long scarf or towel wrapped around the ball of your right foot, knees bent, left foot on the floor.
- Hold the scarf in both hands, and extend your right leg, keeping your foot flexed.
- Slowly walk your hands up the scarf as you lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Hold for a count of 2.
- Now lower yourself back to the starting position, walking your hands back down the scarf.
- Do two sets of 8 to 10 reps on each sides Be sure to keep your head neutral — don't tuck your chin or tilt back.
I like the really generous side-stretching in this modified half-crunch. (When I first tried this move, I had a buddy hold my feet still at first until I got the motion down — it was helpful to have her watch my form and correct the angle of my back.)
- Sit on the floor and extend your legs, pressing them firmly together.
- Lean back 45 degrees from the hips.
- Keep your abs engaged as you bring both your arms overhead like a ballerina.
- Slowly twist your torso to the right, placing your right arm on the mat. Keep your left arm reaching overhead for a slow count of 3.
- Repeat the movement, keeping your left arm on the floor, and keeping your butt and heels on the floor.
- Contract your abs to support your spine as you return to center, bringing both arms overhead.
- Continue alternating sides. Do 2 sets of 6 to 8 reps on each side.
The Single-Leg Stretch
The top of my abs burns at first when I do this move consistently, and after a few days my whole six-pack feels engaged. Nice.
- Lie back in the center of your mat with your knees bent. Lift your head and shoulders and curl your chin in toward your chest.
- Inhale as you draw your left knee in toward your chest, placing your left hand on your ankle and your right hand on your knee.
- Lift your right leg about 45 degrees off the floor.
- Switch legs, extending your left leg while hugging your right leg to your chest.
- Switch hand positions each time your switch legs, placing your right hand on your right ankle and your left hand on your right knee.
- Do between 5 and 10 reps for each side.
After doing a series of regular crunches and other lying-down exercises, getting into cobra pose is a welcome change. It always makes me feel like I'm lengthening the front of my rib cage, too, which is a sweet reward.
- Lie facedown on the floor with your palms near your chest.
- Lift your head, shoulders, and chest off the floor, pulling your shoulder blades down and together.
- Hold for 2 counts and then lower back down. Repeat 8 to 10 times.
- For a more difficult exercise, try lifting your thighs and hips off the floor.